Fraternities vote to abolish pledge term

by Sasha Dudding and Sera Kwon | 9/21/14 6:57pm

Fraternities must abolish pledge terms for new members, members of the Interfraternity Council decided unanimously on Sunday night. The vote does not come with any new enforcement measures, IFC president Wil Chockley ’15 said, noting that College and government policies already ban hazing. Its student-driven nature, combined with a fear of system-wide retribution if a fraternity violates the policy, will contribute to its enforcement, fraternity presidents interviewed said.

The decision follows a closed session on the Greek system’s future hosted by College President Phil Hanlon last week. For an hour and a half, Hanlon, Board of Trustees Chair Bill Helman and “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee chair Barbara Will spoke with fraternity and sorority presidents and other Greek leaders about potential reforms, including eliminating fall pledge term.

But the announcement also follows months of smaller conversations held within houses and with administrators, Chockley said, as well as a week of final discussions between presidents and their fraternities. After years of negative media attention and Hanlon’s stated desire to reform the Greek system, Chockley said this term presented a “perfect opportunity” for change.

“New members will enjoy full rights and privileges of current members,” the IFC said in a campus-wide email Sunday night.

New members will forgo both internal and outwardly visible aspects of the traditional six-week pledge term, Chockley said. Philanthropic and team-building activities will still be permitted.

The College’s definition of hazing already bars organizations from public stunts and wearing clothing or other items “likely to subject the wearer to embarrassment, ridicule or harm.”

A fall 2012 Greek Leadership Organizations and Societies policy aimed to ban the wearing of unusual clothing during pledge term, from fanny packs and blue bows for women to red hats and lunch boxes for men, though some organizations responded by asking all members to wear such items.

“The hope is that this announcement will really create an environment in fraternities for reflection on which parts of the process of joining the fraternity are really important and which can be stripped away,” Chockley said.

Fraternity presidents interviewed expressed enthusiasm about the policy and confidence in its implementation.

The policy will allow fraternities to rethink harmful traditions and find new ways to build community, Beta Alpha Omega fraternity rush chair Andres Isaza ’15 said. While he said some affiliated men may be hesitant about the changes, he predicted that the student-led policy would be welcomed and enforced.

“The goal right now is having changes come from students,” he said. “If not, the College will step in and we don’t know what those changes will be.”’

In a poll of 71 students conducted by The Dartmouth last Wednesday, about 57 percent of affiliated respondents and 36 percent of unaffiliated respondents opposed ending pledge term. Seven of the 10 affiliated male respondents were against its elimination.

Although the vote comes less than a week before the start of IFC fraternity recruitment on Friday, fraternities have discussed the policy and possible full-house bonding activities throughout the week, Isaza said, citing paint ball trips and hosting meetings in cabins as examples of Beta’s plans.

Isaza represented Beta at the meeting, as fraternity president Chet Brown ’15 could not attend.

Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity president Zachary Queen ’15 praised the policy’s student-driven origins, adding that the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee has been too “opaque” in its efforts to evaluate and reform the Greek system. Queen said the move will form part of a “major overhaul” of Greek life.

Any fraternity found violating the policy would likely be derecognized, but such an event would also reflect poorly on the entire Greek system, Queen said, noting that this respect for other houses will promote the policy’s enforcement.

Phi Delta Alpha fraternity president Taylor Cathcart ’15 said that, faced with inaction from the Greek Leadership Council, fraternity presidents needed to take collective action.

“It was certainly in the best interests of the Greek system and our new members this fall,” he said of the vote.

Eliminating pledge term will not negatively affect the new member period, Alpha Delta fraternity president Mike Haughey ’15 said.

“This is not taking away new member period, it’s altering the new member period in the way that ensures every new member is afforded all of the rights and privileges of any member in the house, while also preserving the distinctive characteristics of every house,” he said.

This is a decisive moment for the Greek system, Sigma Nu fraternity president Blaze Joel ’15 said, pointing to the council’s unanimity as evidence of its desire to act.

At Sunday’s meeting, members also discussed creating new sub-committees on topics like sexual assault and student event management procedures, Queen said.

Earlier on Sunday, the Greek Leadership Council convened fraternity, sorority and coed leaders in a wide-ranging discussion about campus Greek life. Students discussed both practical and “existential” issues, coed council interim president Noah Cramer ’16 said, from the frequency of fraternity parties to the potential benefits of a coeducational Greek system.

Coeducational fraternity presidents will meet Tuesday with Greek Letter Organizations and Societies director Wes Schaub to solidify the absence of pledge terms in Phi Tau, Tabard and Alpha Theta coed fraternities, Cramer said.

“We will definitely talk about our policies in terms of new members and new member education — coed pledges have the same rights as older members, and we will work to make that message clearer to them,” Cramer said.

In an effort to equalize interactions between all members, coed fraternities could adjust their welcoming traditions, such as giving all members bags of candy, Alpha Theta president Cristy Altamirano ’15 said.

“The reason why I don’t generally like pledge terms in other houses is because it seems to promote unity in new members, whereas I want everyone to feel connected to the house regardless of whether they’re a third-term member or an alum,” Altamirano said. “I want them to feel as important as the next term of members because that’s ultimately how I think and feel.”

The presidents of Alpha Chi Alpha, Bones Gate, Chi Heorot, Gamma Delta Chi, Kappa Kappa Kappa, Psi Upsilon, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Theta Delta Chi and Zeta Psi fraternities did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Joel is a member of The Dartmouth senior staff.